“The dreaded moments has come; there is no escape. We are in the hands of the SS. The process of our ‘liquidation’ has begun.” Livia Bitton-Jackson describes the hardships faced while growing up in the Holocaust in her autobiography, I Have Lived a Thousand Years.
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Similarly, Sarah Helm’s researches the experiments performed on women in Ravensbruck in her excerpt, Rabbits, from the book Ravensbruck. Provided to us by the historical documents website, AlphaHistory.com, the hardships of the Holocaust victims are discussed in the articles, Survivor of The Majdanek Concentration Camp (Survivor) and Eyewitness Account of the Belzec Gassing (Eyewitness). The book, Band of Brother by Stephen E. Ambrose, also discusses the brutal beating towards inmates. These selections display the multiple instances of brutality of the Holocaust.
One hardship the prisoners endured was being “guinea pigs” for experiments. In the excerpt Rabbits from the selection Ravensbruck by Sarah Helms, she does extensive research about the women taken in for gangrene experiments. “They can see their own wounds for the first time, and each stares in disbelief at the swollen lumps of flesh and the incisions on the tibia, so deep they can see bone. One woman pulls out a piece of glass, another a wooden splinter two inches long” (Helms 217). Helms provides us with a small portion of the morbid exercises performed on Holocaust victims. A second selection that presents us another fragment of these experiments is Eyewitness from the historical document website AlphaHistory.com. They provide us with an eyewitness report from a Holocaust SS Lieutenant who had a front row view of prisoners being gassed and killed by Diesel Fume poisoning, “The dead were standing upright like basalt pillars, pressed together in the chambers. There would not have been room to fall down or even bend over” (Gerstein). Diesel Fume poisoning was a popular way to kill large groups at a time. Kurt Gerstein, the observer, was using a stopwatch to test how long it took to kill the bunch. He gave his testimony to allied authorities a few days after the war ended.
Another hardship that prisoners experienced was the poverish food supply within the concentration camps. The prisoners would have little to no food, and on occasion they would go days as a punishment. In the autobiography, I Have Lived a Thousand Years by the earlier prisoner of Auschwitz, Bitton-Jackson, recalls her unbearable food experiences. “As it stood for hours in the sun, it became putrefied and alive with worms. I noticed a long, white worm wriggling in Mommy’s spoon as she lifted it to her mouth” (Bitton-Jackson 102). Here, Bitton-Jackson tells us about an instance when the Camp cared so little about the condition of the food, they allowed it to grow worms then fed it to the prisoners with no mercy. Another source that expresses the deficient food quality was within the historical selection Band of Brothers, written by Stephen E. Ambrose. Ambrose writes of allied soldiers going to one of the nearby concentration camps in Germany and witnessed thousands of men, all crippled with sicknesses and weaknesses, “Prisoners in their striped pajamas, three-quarters starved, by the thousands; corpses, little more than skeletons, by the hundreds” (Band of Brothers 262). Winters, the man in charge, orders stored blocks of cheese to be distributed among the prisoners.
A final hardship faced among the prisoners of the Holocaust was the brutal beatings. The prisoners would have stones thrown at their heads and kicked at the ribs just to be shown the levels of power above them. In AlphaHistory.com’s excerpt Survivor, Pfeffer, one of the survivors of the Majdanek concentration camps recalls his perspective of the punishments and torture of Jewish inmates. He reports, “During work the SS men beat up prisoners mercilessly, inhumanly and for no reason… The victim screamed only after the first blows, afterwards he fell unconscious and the SS man then kicked at the ribs, the face, at the most sensitive part of a man’s body” (Pfeffer). These situations are only a small portion of the torture the inmates went through. Pfeffer discusses punishments such as the ‘boxing sack’, and a tool called the ‘heavy boot’.
Throughout the many details given of the brutal and miserable life of Holocaust inmates, these are not all that occured. Other brutalities these inmates went through included cases such as terrible living quarters, hard labor, and the frequent deaths caused by being shot or starved. The Holocaust is one of the most inhumane and gruesome events to ever happen in the history of the world. We talk and remind ourselves of this tragedy so we don’t make the same mistake twice.
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